I had my eyes opened this past weekend at an exhibit at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch” took all my preconceptions of upcycled vintage quilts and quite frankly blew them up.
I have always appreciated the history of quilt making. I admire the skill of bygone textile artists and the significance of stories many incorporated into their work. And I love the quilts lovingly made by my grandmother, Flo, whose only stories were practicality and love of family. I also enjoy the works of modern quilt artists who use color, pattern, contrast and negative space to achieve beautiful bold works. But it had never occurred to me to take a historic quilt, whole or in pieces, and add mediums like paint, tar, and glitter or reshape two-dimensional quilts and pieces into 3-D sculptures. Enter Sanford Biggers and modern art.
Think textiles + mixed media + sculpture, with the intentional incorporation of cultures, places, and memories into historic quilt fabrics. Total transformation. For me, new stuff for sure.
Artist Sanford Biggers’ pieces on display at the Speed are cool. They’re modern – but you can still see history. They’re edgy – but not void of tradition. And they’re definitely interesting – engaging and thought provoking. I’ve been inspired at other art exhibits, but my reaction to this one was unexpected!
Don’t get me wrong. I still love traditional and modern quilting, and I love seeing a beautiful old quilts repurposed into wearables or tattered remnants used in craft sewing projects. I love textiles for the sake of textiles – and I look forward to the next quilt show that comes my way.
But sometimes it’s really fun to mix it up a bit. To look at something you think you know well and be able to see it completely reimagined through someone else’s creations. That’s how I felt about the “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch” exhibit. I could honestly say, “Wow, I would never have thought of that – or made it!”
The exhibit’s title, “Codeswitch”, is all about mixing it up. It’s actually a linguistic term referring to using different languages or dialects within a conversation, for example, or switching between languages or personalities in different social settings. It’s easy to see how the layers of Biggers’ art can feel like codeswitching. According to Sanford Biggers, “What I want to do is code-switch. To have there be layers of history and politics, but also this heady, arty stuff—inside jokes, black humor—that you might have to take a while to research if you want to really get it.” There are QR codes to background information throughout the exhibit, but if you want to delve deeper, the Speed Museum Store has a copy of Biggers’ book about the collection.
In addition to “Codeswitch”, there are many wonderful objets d’art on display at the Speed. Don’t miss the lovely exhibit of ten quilts, “Pictures from Pieces”, a recent gift from Louisville’s Eleanor Bingham Miller. I also enjoyed the Adele and Leonard Leight Collection of art glass – another of my favorite things. And lest I forget another favorite category, a circa 1700-1750 example of silk and metallic embroidery was a stunner. If you plan to visit, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time. After our visit, my friend and I had lunch at Wiltshire at the Speed, and I would highly recommend that as well.
The “Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch” exhibit at the Speed Art Museum runs through June 26th, and I heartily encourage you to visit. I guarantee you have not had this experience!